President Obama says that when Congress returns after Labor Day, he plans to propose a plan to create jobs and cut the federal deficit. Given his repeated references to infrastructure in recent days, some construction-specific proposals could be in the mix, industry hopes.
But any economic-stimulus proposal from the President that includes additional spending is nearly certain to draw strong opposition from congressional Republicans.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in an Aug. 17 memo to his GOP colleagues, "We must put an end to the policy uncertainty constantly being driven by this administration....That means stopping the discussions of new stimulus spending with money that we simply do not have."
Whatever the shape, and ultimate fate, of Obama's jobs proposal, Congress faces important decisions after its August recess about two other key construction measures: bills authorizing surface transportation programs and aviation programs--as well as the user fees that fund them.
Surface transportation and aviation programs and taxes now are operating under stopgap measures. The highway-transit bill lapses on Sept. 30; the aviation measure expires on Sept. 16.
In an Aug. 11 trip to Holland, Mich., Obama told his audience, "Tell Congress to get past their differences and send me a road construction bill...so that companies can put tens of thousands of people to work right now...."
At an Aug. 15 town hall meeting in Decorah, Iowa, Obama said that when Congress returns in September, he will set forth "a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and to control our deficit."
Two days later, in Atkinson, Ill., the President got a bit more specific, saying he will present to the congressional deficit-cutting "super committee" a plan that trims the deficit by more than $1.5 trillion. That would exceed the target set for the panel by the recently enacted debt limit/deficit-reduction measure, which also created the committee.
Obama said that his post-Labor Day proposal will include cutting spending and finding revenue, and cited closing some corporate tax "loopholes" as one place to go for that revenue. He said that "you've got to have everything on the table."
Although Obama didn't spell out the details of his proposal during his recent visits to the Midwest, he repeatedly cited the importance of infrastructure.
David Bauer, American Road and Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government affairs, says, "I don't know exactly what they're going to be proposing, and to what degree transportation would make a mark in the plan that he's going to put forward."
But Bauer adds, "That said, with his comments of late it would sort of raise a question if transportation was not included at all."
Obama certainly has spoken out strongly about infrastructure. "There's no reason why we shouldn't put Americans back to work all across the country rebuilding America," he said in Atkinson.
Obama added that "we need roads and bridges and schools all across the country that should be rebuilt. And all those folks who got laid off from construction because the economy went south or the housing bubble burst, they're dying for work. Contractors are willing to come in under budget and on time."
Later that day, speaking in Alpha, Ill., Obama said that "this is a great time for us to rebuild our roads, and our bridges and locks in the Mississippi and our seaports and our airports. We should be doing that right now."
In Iowa, he talked up the idea of an infrastructure bank, something he has discussed several times before. He said the bank concept has bipartisan support, and would use federal "seed capital" to leverage private investment.
Construction groups support the notion of an infrastructure bank, but say that by far the more important issue is reauthorizing, and if possible expanding, funds for the core highway and transit programs.
Construction officials also would love to see multi-year highway-transit, and aviation, bills enacted soon, but with the mid- and late-September deadlines around the corner, it looks like the best they can hope for by then is further extensions.
Even that isn't a sure thing. A nasty partisan fight broke out in late July over the aviation bill. That produced a two-week shutdown of the federal airport grant program and a halt to construction projects, before a compromise ended the stalemate, temporarily.